It’s the age-old question: can men and women be (just) friends? The media loves to play up this question.
Will something happen? Will the other person have reciprocal feelings? Will the friendship end once someone announces their (potentially unrequited) love?
The infamous Harry Burns definitely thinks men and women can’t be friends in When Harry Met Sally.
And why have cross-sex friends anyways? Well in our past, these friendships provided us with additional mating opportunities. But cross-sex friends are new, because back in the day, anyone you hung around with was likely genetically related to you.
So modern day friendship looks pretty different. Or so we think. We don’t have that much on cross-sex friendship. We have lots on same-sex friends, why friends are important, and the role of close relationships.
But how about this study (it’s NOT my study–I had nothing to do with it) researchers had 88 friendship pairs come into the study and fill out measures on their friendship. All were heterosexual and had been friends for an average of 2 years. They had to both report that they were not sexually or romantically involved with each other. Thus, any Friends with Benefits should’ve high-tailed it outta there at this point.
(1) Men were more likely to report being attracted to their female friend and more likely to report their female friend being attracted to them – even though they reported that they knew they were more attracted to their female friends than their female friends were to them.
(2) Men more likely to report wanting to date their female friend and overestimated how much their female friends wanted to date them. Women made more accurate predictions in this regard: women reported that their male friends wanted to date them more than they wanted to date their male friends.
(3) It didn’t matter to the men if they were in a relationship with someone else–single and non-single males reported the same level of attraction to their female friends. Women made a distinction: single women reported more attraction for their male companions.
Women underestimated the level of attraction their male friends had for them.
Does “He doesn’t like me; we’re just friends” sound familiar, anyone?
Then in Study 2, they asked people in age groups 18-23 and 27-55 about the benefits and costs to cross-sex friendship.
Being attracted to a partner: costly and confusing.
Older group reported fewer opposite sex friends (function of marriage?) with older aged women reporting the fewest opposite sex friends. Jealous partners perhaps? Overall, women reported less attraction to opposite sex friends. Not surprisingly, men were more likely to report attraction as a benefit for both age groups.
Single adults reported as much attraction to opposite sex friends as the younger adult group did. Singles were also less likely to report cross-sex friends as a potential cost.
Of course friendships aren’t just costly; friends can also be convenient sexual partners.
Jocelyn Wentland is a Sex Researcher, PhD student at the University of Ottawa. You will find her blogs are sexual, risqué (she likes to push the envelope), potentially offending, fun, but most of all, real. Read more of Jocelyn’s blog at SexResearchandTheCity.com and follow her on Twitter.